Much is expected of the 2017-18 Alabama men’s basketball program. And, though he didn’t use his catch-phrase on Monday’s Southeastern Conference summer men’s basketball teleconference, Crimson Tide Coach Avery Johnson seems ready to “buckle up.”
Said Johnson, “We’re just about to conclude our summer session one. We’ve had some really good individual workouts on the court. We’ve had to incorporate six new players: five freshman (from a top ten recruiting class) and (Ohio State transfer) Daniel Giddens. We’ve got to get all these guys meshed together.
“We’re excited. The team is doing good. We feel we’re all on the same page. This is our third year, and hopefully to take that next step.”
Coming off last year’s 19-15, 10-8 SEC record and first round NIT loss, that “next step” Johnson speaks of is an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
If the Tide is to make such a jump, the 6-11 Giddens will play a major role. Once thought by some to be a younger Jimmie Taylor (good defense, limited offense), Giddens has made strides in the last 12 months and may well prove to be a threat on both ends.
“Daniel’s been doing great,” Johnson said when asked about Giddens’ progress. “He’s worked hard. He went through our rigorous redshirt program. He’s getting stronger, and he’s expanded his game. We feel he can be the type rebounder (graduate transfer) Bola Olaniyan was, but we think he’ll be a better offensive player, and take his game out to 14 or 15 feet.
“He’s a big guy that can pass the ball from the foul line,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, (Giddens) will be able to play some with Donta (Hall), and hold down the middle when Donta is out of the game.”
As an Ohio state freshman, the Atlanta native Giddens averaged 3.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 18.2 minutes per game. He will wear no. 4 and is listed at 236 pounds.
Johnson expects a very competitive SEC this year due to an influx of great recruits around the league, and he says that’s win-win for the conference and its “Big Dance” hopes. “We have to have good wins against each other in the conference,” he said. “The RPIs are going to be much higher, and so are the Strengths of Schedule. We’re going to have a lot of tough games, hard-nosed games, probably decided in the last minute.
“I just hope Alabama is somewhere near the top. We can be if we can make some shots and take care of the ball.”
Meanwhile, Johnson had plenty to say about proposed changes to the NBA’s current “one and done” basketball rule that allows a player to declare for the pros after one college season. Johnson and many of his cohorts in the league support the approach Major League Baseball takes, where players stay a minimum two to three years, depending upon when they turn 21.
“I have somewhat mixed feelings,” the Tide coach said. “I want to try to do what's best for the player on one hand. I think there are exceptions like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron (James) that can some straight out of high school and go straight to the NBA.
“I just don’t want a young man where that’s not his trajectory to be focused in high school and think that he’s a kid that can come straight out of high school and go straight to the NBA. If we can figure out a way to have those kids, where there’s exceptions to the rules, where there’s superior talent and he’s got that type of talent that he can go straight from high school to the NBA, then let’s do it.
“But on the other hands, I hope that the kids that do attend college can stay for at least two years, a maximum of three, before they go to the NBA.”
Also, there is schedule news, though Johnson didn’t announce it. It was learned that the Crimson Tide will host UT-Arlington on Nov. 21. The Mavericks won the Sun Belt last year. The game was announced on the Texas school’s web site.
Johnson did announce (again, as he did last week at camp) that Texas transfer Tevin Mack has been admitted to UA and will be in class and on the court when the second summer session begins next week. Mack will have to sit out the coming season and then have two years to play, should he choose to use all three. At Texas as a sophomore, Mack averaged 14.8 points a game. He was a four-star recruit out of Columbia, S.C., two years ago.